The Seattle Symphony has opened Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center, an intimate venue at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle, equipped with Meyer Sound’s Constellation active acoustics and Spacemap spatial sound.
With this, Octave 9 affords great potential to explore new ways to create, present and experience music from all genres and eras — from string quartets and vocal ensembles to contemporary electronic — in an immersive environment.
Seattle Symphony VP of education and community engagement, Laura Reynolds, spoke of how they renewed the limited size and acoustics of the space now known as Octave 9. “We knew that if we were to transform this space into a venue that could serve many audiences, and be a place to experiment and explore, we would need the flexibility to create different acoustic environments,” she recalled. “Our project partners suggested active acoustics, and Meyer Sound was the company that immediately came to mind.”
For the Seattle Symphony, Octave 9 opens a spectrum of new possibilities. Reynolds shared: “When we think about the future of music, we think about partnerships with artists who are redefining experiences, intersecting with many disciplines and technologies. For example, Constellation and Spacemap allow our resident composers and artists the opportunity to create site-specific works in new ways. They are treating the room itself as an instrument. Beyond that, we also think of that future as inclusive of the community, so we need a space that can adapt to everything from early childhood and elementary school programmes to contemporary music concerts, meetings, parties and so much more.”
Constellation is a highly refined system of active acoustics. By applying digital signal processing coupled to multiple ambient sensing microphones and an array of lateral and overhead loudspeakers, Constellation modifies the room’s acoustic characteristics by adding early reflections and/or reverberation. Acoustic characteristics are generated using the patented VRAS (Variable Room Acoustical System) algorithm.
As implemented at Octave 9, Constellation comprises 62 small full-range loudspeakers augmented by 10 compact subwoofers that extend the reverberation envelope through the deep bass frequencies. 28 miniature microphones are spread across the ceiling for ambient sensing. Digital signal processing is supplied by a D-Mitri digital audio platform with 13 modules, including two D-VRAS modules for separate control of early reflections and reverberation. Available system presets can instantly transform room acoustics to emulate a small room, medium room, large hall or cathedral.
The suite of Meyer Sound technologies also includes Spacemap, a software-based system for exploring 3D spatial sound through the dynamic movement of discrete sounds around, over and through the audience.
One artist who is already leveraging the creative potential of Octave 9 is noted composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel, currently the Seattle Symphony’s composer in residence, who will debut a new work on April 28 that was written specifically to incorporate the new technologies.
“Constellation expands the dimensions of my thinking,” commented Bermel. “Generally, spatialisation is not part of my composing palette, though I have in the past placed instrumentalists offstage, in the audience or in specific places on stage to achieve a sonic effect. But Constellation allows me to adjust the space to fit a musical concept, rather than the other way around. As you can imagine, that opens all sorts of possibilities.”
Bermel expects the late April concert will “bring the Constellation system into full effect” as it will feature works with an electroacoustic edge from a host of contemporary composers. As for his own work, he will bring the pre-recorded Seattle Symphony into Octave 9 along with live players on stage. “I’m working with [composer and digital artist] Marcin Pączkowski to design custom spatialisation that takes full advantage of the loudspeakers and microphones in the space.”
The architecture of the space, including the innovative “honeycomb” acoustical ceiling, was designed by LMN Architects in Seattle working in collaboration with principal acoustical and AV consultant Garth Hemphill of Jaffe Holden.
For a full sensory experience, the sonic effects of Constellation are complemented by equally advanced visual technologies as designed by Belle & Wissell, Co. of Seattle. Visual effects are displayed on moveable screens that can fully surround the space with images displayed on 10 throw projectors.
“Integrating the sonic, acoustic, and visual technologies in this room was no small feat, and is a testament to the creative vision and talents of the Seattle Symphony, Jaffe Holden, LMN, and Belle & Wissell. Octave 9’s unique combination of adjustable active acoustics, spatial mixing, and immersive digital imagery provide a virtually unlimited palette to support both current and emerging forms of musical expression,” summarised Meyer sound director, Spatial Sound, Steve Ellison.
Funding for Octave 9 was raised through public and private sources, spearheaded by a $2 million matching grant from philanthropists James and Sherry Raisbeck.